It's likely that cattle producers in the Southeast won't look back on 2007 with any fondness. This region, home to about 25% of the nation's cow-calf production, withered under an unrelenting drought last year, and entered '08 desperate for a change.

That has happened, to an extent at least. And based on the prognostications by Art Douglas, the Cattle-Fax weather forecaster, Southeastern cattlemen may be in for a break. Eventually.

Douglas sees a weather pattern similar to the 1940s and '50s, forecasting that we'll stay in a moderate to strong La Niña through this spring. “With cold water persisting for the next four months, moisture conditions should continue to improve in Australia and northern Brazil, but the La Niña will favor persistent drought in Argentina and the Southeastern U.S.,” he says.

However, relief for the Southeast is in sight. “Persistent drought conditions in the Southeast are likely to moderate by the summer as La Niña gradually weakens and tropical storm activity brings coastal rains,” Douglas says. He sees dry conditions redeveloping in the Southwest this spring, but then a good summer monsoon season for the Four Corners states.

Likewise, Douglas sees a near-normal summer throughout much of the Corn Belt, which, given good soil moisture conditions from this fall and winter, is positive for crop yields.

The main center of heat and dryness this summer is forecast for the Northwest third of the nation, he says, suggesting an abrupt change from a cool and wet spring to a hot and dry summer.

As cattlemen head from winter into spring, Douglas forecasts warmer-than-normal temperatures for the Southwest and eastern half of the nation. “Only the Northwest quarter of the country is expected to be cooler than normal,” he says.